Rights and Protection of Labour

The history of labour legislation in India is naturally interwoven with the history of British colonialism. Considerations of British political economy were naturally paramount in shaping some of these early laws. To date, India has ratified 39 International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions of which 37 are in force. Of the ILO's eight fundamental conventions, India has ratified four — Forced Labour, 1930; Equal Remuneration, 1951; Abolition of Forced Labour, 1957; and Discrimination (Employment and Occupation), 1958. The major objective of social security is to provide preventive, curative and rehabilitative services to meet the special needs of those vulnerable groups.

ILO (1984, p.2) defined the social security "as the protection which society provides for its members through a series of public measures, against the economic and social distress that otherwise would be caused by the stoppage or substantial reduction of earning resulting from sickness, maternity, employment, injury, unemployment, invalidity, old age and death, the provision of subsidies for families with children".

Prominent Features of Social Security

Social security consists of the following features.
  1. It is a part of social justice programme.
  2. It relates to social and economic conditions prevailing in the economy.
  3. It is a compensatory measure to protect the person having small means from risk and contingencies.
  4. It provides protection and stability to workforce.
  5. It incorporates benefits and other measures to help in case of sickness, old age, invalidity unemployment, maternity, death and such other things.
Thus, social security is an important part of public policy and government is supposed to provide regulatory framework for the same.

Social security measures bring in an element of stability and protection in the midst of stress and strains of life. It is major aspect of public policy and the extent of its prevalence is a measure of the progress made by a country towards the ideal of a Welfare State (Report of National Commission on Labour, 1969, p. 162). The concept of social security is based on ideals of human dignity and social justice. The underlying idea is that a citizen who has contributed or is likely to contribute to his country's welfare should be given protection against certain hazards.

Legal Protection of Labour in Organised Sector

The provisions of social security for organised workers are mainly protective in nature and are ensured through a legal framework and institutional infrastructure created under enabling legislations. The measures providing protection to working class against contingencies like retirement, resignation, retrenchment, maternity, old age, unemployment, death, disablement and other similar conditions are said to be the social security for employees. Social security for employees is a concept which over time has gained importance in the industrialized countries.

In India, the Constitution levies responsibility on the State to provide social security to citizens of the country. The State, here, discharges duty as an agent of the society in order to help those who are in adverse situations or otherwise needs protection owing to above mentioned contingencies. Article 41, 42 and 43 of the Constitution do talk about the same. Also, the Concurrent List of the Constitution of India mentions issues like the following:
  1. Social Security and insurance, employment and unemployment.
  2. Welfare of Labour including conditions of work, provident funds, employers' liability, workmen's compensation, invalidity and old age pension and maternity benefits.
Drawing from the Constitution of India and ILO Convention on Social Security ratified by India in 1964, some of the legislations that have been enacted for social security are: Workmen's Compensation Act, 1923; Employees' State Insurance Act, 1948; Employees' Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952; Maternity Benefit Act, 1961; Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972; etc. A social security division has also been set up under the Ministry of Labour and Employment which mainly focuses on framing policies for social security for the workers of organized sector. There are laws enacted and schemes established by the Central/State Governments providing for social security and welfare of working people in organised sector.

1. Administration of Certain Social Security Acts 

 Certain social security Acts are administered as mentioned below.
  1.  The Employees' Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 is administered by the Government of India through the Employees' Provident Fund organisation (EPFO).
  2. Cash benefits under the Employees' State Insurance Act, 1948 are administered by the Central Government through the Employees' State Insurance Corporation (ESIC), whereas the State Governments and Union Territory Administrations are administering medical care under the Employees' State Insurance Act, 1948.
  3. The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 is administered by the Central Government in establishments under its control, and establishments having branches in more than one State, major ports, mines, oil fields and the railways by the State Governments and Union Territory Administrations in all other cases. This Act applies to factories and other establishments. 
  4. In mines and circus industry, the provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 are being administered by the Central Government through the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central) and by the State Governments in factories, plantations, and other establishments.
  5. The provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1923 are being administered exclusively by the State Governments.
We will, now, look into certain important aspects of selected social security Acts, among others.

2. Employees' Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952

This Act is a welfare legislation enacted for the purpose of instituting a Provident Fund for employees working in factories and other establishments. The Act aims at providing social security and timely monetary assistance to industrial employees and their families when they are in distress and/or unable to meet family and social obligations and to protect them in old age, disablement, early death of the breadwinner and in some other contingencies. Presently, there are schemes that ensure terminal benefits to provident fund, superannuation pension, and family pension in case of death during service .

In this scheme both the employee and the employer make an equal contribution into a national fund. The contribution is made within the prescribed percent of the wage including a small percentage towards family pension. This contribution also attracts an annual interest at prescribed rates and the accumulated amount is paid on retirement to the employee along with the interest that has accrued. Unfortunately, the employee is allowed to draw many types of loan from the fund such as for house construction, children's education, marriage of children, etc. As a result, very little is available at the time Of retirement. This is also a benefit, which is steadily being extended to sections of the unorganised sector, especially where the employer is clearly identifiable.

Coverage of establishments and members: The Employees' Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 extends to the whole of India, excluding the state of Jammu & Kashmir. The Act is applicable to factories and other classes of establishments engaged in specific industries, classes of establishments employing 20 or more persons. The Act, however does not apply to cooperative societies employing less than 50 persons and working without the aid of power. The Act also does not apply to employees of the Central Government or State Government or local authority. The Central Government is empowered to apply the provisions of this Act to any establishment employing less than 20 persons after giving not less than two months’ notice of its intent to do so by a notification in the official gazette. Once the Act has been made applicable, it does not cease to be applicable even if the number of employees falls below 20. An establishment/ factory, which is not otherwise coverable under the Act, can be covered voluntarily with mutual consent of the employers and the majority of the employees under Section 1(4) of the Act. Thus, membership of the fund is compulsory for employees drawing a pay not exceeding prescribed amount per month (at the time of joining). Every employee employed in or in connection with the work of a factory or establishment shall be entitled and required to become a member of the fund from the date of joining the factory or establishment.

3. Employees' Deposit-Linked Insurance Scheme, 1976 

 Employees' Deposit Linked Insurance Scheme 1976 is applicable to all factories/ establishments with effect from August 01, 1976. All the employees, who are members of the Employees' Provident Fund are required to become members of this Scheme. Employers are required to pay contributions to the Insurance Fund at the rate of 0.5 per cent of pay, i.e. basic wages, dearness allowance including cash value of food concession and retaining allowance, if any.

4. Employees' Pension Scheme, 1995

The Employees' Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 was amended and a separate Pension Scheme was launched from 16th November 1995 replacing the then Employees Family Pension Scheme, 1971.
  1. Pension Criteria: Superannuation pension will be payable on attaining the age of 58 years and on completion of 20 years of service or more. Early pension can be taken at a reduced rate between 50-58 years of age, on completion of 10 years pensionable service or more.
  2. Benefits under the Scheme: The Employees' Pension Scheme, 1995 provides the following benefit-package: i) Superannuation pension; ii) Early pension; iii) Permanent total disablement; iv) Widow or Widower's pension; v) Children pension or orphan pension: vi) Nominee pension/dependent parents pension.
  3. Contribution to Pension Fund: From and out of the contributions payable by the employer in each month to the Provident Fund, a part of contribution representing 8.33% of the employee's pay is remitted to the Employee's Pension Fund. Employer to pay for cost of remittance. The Central Government contributes I. 16% of the pay of the employee to the Employees' Pension Fund. If the pay of the employee exceeds Rs.6500/- per month, the contribution payable by the employer and the Central Contribution will be limited to the amount payable on his pay of Rs.6500/- only. All accumulations in the ceased Family Pension Fund constitute the corpus of the Pension Fund (Sakthivel, S. Pinaki Joddar, 2006, pp.2107-2114).

5. The Employees' State Insurance Act, 1948

The Employees' State Insurance Act, 1948 provides for health care and cash benefit payments in the case of sickness, maternity and employment injury. The Act is applicable to non-seasonal factories using power and employing 10 or more employees and non-power-using factories and certain other establishments employing 20 or more employees. The Act is being implemented areas-wise, in a phase manner. The ESI Scheme is operated in 728 centres situated in 25 states/ union territories. As on 3 1.03.2006, 91.49 lakh insured persons and about 353.05 lakh beneficiaries are covered under the Scheme. The number of factories and establishments covered by the end of the year had cone up to about 3,05,294.
  1. Administration: As mentioned under the ESI Scheme is administered by the Employees' State Insurance Corporation (ESIC), which is a statutory body and has members representing Employers, Employees, Central and State Governments, Medical Profession and the Parliament. The Union Minister for Labour and Employment is the Chairman. A Standing Committee constituted from among the members of the Corporation acts as the executive body for administration of the Scheme and is chaired by Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Labour and Employment. There are 24 Regional Boards and 345 Local Committees in existence at present. The Director General is the Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation and is also an ex-officio member of the Corporation as well as its Standing Committee. The ESI Corporation, apart from the Headquarters Office located at New Delhi, has a large number of field offices throughout the country. The Corporation has 24 Regional Offices, 14 Sub-Regional and 7 Divisional Offices throughout the country. Besides, there are 646 Branch Offices and 179 Pay Offices for administration of cash benefits to insured persons. For inspection and coverage of new factories / establishments, 248 Inspection Offices are also set up across the country (Ibid).
  2. Funding and Operation of the Scheme: The ESI Scheme is mainly financed by contributions from the employers and employees. The rates of the employers' and the employees' share of contribution are 4.75% and I .75%respectively. The State Governments ' share of the expenditure on the provision of medical care is to the extent of 12.5% (1/8th within the per capita ceiling). The Corporation has prescribed a ceiling on the shareable expenditure on medical care. All capital expenditure on construction of ESI hospitals, and other buildings including their maintenance is borne exclusively by the Corporation.
  3. Investment: All contributions received under the ESI Act and all other moneys belonging to the funds which are not immediately required for defraying day to-day expenses are invested In the manner prescribed statutorily.
  4. Health Benefits: The Scheme provides full medical facilities, from primary health care to super-specialty treatment in respect of the insured persons and their family members. The medical care under the Scheme is administered by the State Governments, except in Delhi. Besides ESI hospitals, the Corporation also directly administers 1 7 Model Hospitals in the country. It facilitates both outpatient and in-patient care and freely dispenses medicines and covers hospitalisation needs and costs. The ESIC has also taken certain new initiatives to promote and popularize Indian Systems of Medicines (ISM)' along with Yoga and have drawn up programmes for establishing these facilities in EST hospitals and dispensaries in a phased manner. Leave certificates for health reasons are forwarded to the employer who is obliged to honour them. Employment injury, including occupational disease is compensated according to a schedule of rates proportionate to the extent of injury and loss of earning capacity. Payment, unlike in the Workmen 's Compensation Act, is monthly. Despite the existence Of tripartite bodies to supervise the running of the scheme, the entire project has fallen into disrepute due to corruption and inefficiency. Workers in need of genuine medical attention rarely approach this facility though they use it quite liberally to obtain medical leave.

6. The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972

The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 provides for a scheme of compulsory payment of gratuity to employees engaged in factories, mines. oil fields, plantations, ports, railway companies, motor transport undertakings, shops or other establishments.
  1. Administration: The Act is enforced both by the Central and State Government, Mines, major ports, oil fields, railways, factorles and established owned or controlled by the Central Government and establishments having branches in more than one State, are controlled by the Central Government. The remaining factories and /establishments are looked after by the State Governments. Section 3 authorizes the appropriate government to appoint any officer as a Controlling Authority for the administration of the Act. The Central/State Governments appoint the Controlling Authonties and Inspectors for different areas to ensure that the provisions of the Act are complied with. The Central/ State Governments also frame rules for administration of the Act. In Maharashtra the labour courts in different localities are notified as Controlling Authority for the administration of the Act.
  2. Coverage: i) Every factory, oilfields, plantations, port, Railway Company and mine; ii) Every shop or establishment within the meaning of any law for the time being in force in relation to shops and establishments in a State, in which 10 or more persons are employed or were employed on any day of the preceding 12 months; iii) Every motor transport undertaking in which 10 or more persons are employed or were employed on any day of the preceding 12 months; iv) Such other establishments or class of establishments in which 10 or more employees are employed or were employed on any day of the preceding 12 months, as the Central Government may, by notification, specify in this behalf. A shop or establishment once covered shall continue to be covered notwithstanding that the number of persons employed therein at any time falls below.
  3. Entitlement: Every employee, other than apprentice irrespective of his wages is entitled to receive gratuity after he has rendered continuous service for five years or more. Gratuity is payable at the time of termination of his services either i) on superannuation, or ii) on retirement or resignation, or iii) on death or disablement due to accident or disease. Termination of services includes retrenchment. However, the condition of 5 years continuous service is not necessary if services are terminated due to death or disablement. In case of death of the employee, the gratuity payable to him is paid to his nominee, and if no nomination has been made, then to his heirs. Retirement benefit is also available to workers under the Provident Fund Act where a worker who has put in not less than five years of work is entitled to a lumpsum payment equal to 15 days' wages for every completed year of service. Every month the employer is expected to contribute the required money into a separate fund to enable this payment on retirement or termination of employment.
  4. Calculation of Benefits: For every completed year of service or part thereof in excess of six months, the employer pays gratuity to an employee at the rate of 15 days wages based on the rate of wages last drawn by the concerned employee. The amount of the gratuity payable to an employee not to exceed

7. The Maternity Benefits Act, 1961

The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 is a piece of social legislation enacted to promote the welfare of working women. The Act prohibits the working of pregnant women for a specified period before and after delivery. It also provides for maternity leave and payment of certain monetary benefits for women workers subject to fulfillment of certain conditions during the period when they are out of employment on account of their pregnancy. The services of a woman worker cannot be terminated during the period of her absence on account of pregnancy except for gross misconduct. Maximum period for which a woman can get maternity benefit is twelve weeks. Of this, six weeks must be taken prior to the date of delivery of the child and six weeks immediately following that date. The Maternity Benefit Act is applicable to notified establishments. Its coverage can, therefore, extend to the unorganised sector also, though in practice it is rare. A woman employee is entitled to 90 days of paid leave on delivery or on miscarriage. Similar benefits, including hospitalisation facilities are also available under the law.

8. The Workmen's Compensation Act, 1923

After the Workmen's Compensation (Amendment) Act, the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1923 is now called The Employees Compensation Act, 1923 and the definition of employee includes clerical employees and casual employees also. The main objective of the Act is to impose an obligation upon the employers to pay compensation to workers for accidents arising out of and in course of employment. It, thus, covers all cases of 'accidents arising out of and in the course of employment' and the rate of compensation to be paid in a lump-sum, is determined by a schedule proportionate to the extent of injury and the loss of earning capacity. The younger the worker and the higher the wage, the greater is the compensation subject to a limit. The injured person or in case of his death the dependent can claim the compensation.

This law applies to the unorganised sectors and to those in the organised sectors who are not covered by the Employees State Insurance Scheme, which is conceptually considered to be superior to the Workmen's Compensation Act. Under the Workmen Compensation Act, persons employed as cooks in hotels/ restaurants are made eligible for benefits of compensation w.e.f. July, 1998 The Act applies to any person who is employed otherwise than in a clerical or administrative capacity, in railways, factories, mines, plantations, mechanically propelled vehicles, loading and unloading work on a ship, construction, maintenance and repairs of roads and bridges, electricity generation, cinemas, catching or trading of wild elephants, circus, and other hazardous occupations and other employments specified in Schedule Il to the Act. Under Section 2(3) of the Act, the State Governments are empowered to extend the scope of the Act to any class of persons whose occupations are considered hazardous after giving three months' notice in the official gazette. The Act, however, does not apply to members serving in the Armed Forces of Indian Union, and employees covered under the provisions of the Employees' State Insurance Act, 1988 as disablement and dependents' benefit is available under this Act.
  1. Administration: The State Governments administer the provisions of this Act through the Commissioners appointed for specified areas. The State Governments also make rules for ensuring that the provisions of the Act are complied with.
  2. Benefits: The compensation has to be paid by the employer to a workman for any personal injury caused by an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment (Section 3). The employer will not be liable to pay compensation for any kind of disablement (except death) which does not continue for more than three days. If the injury is caused when the workman was under the influence of alcohol or drugs or willfully disobeyed a clear order or violated a rule expressly framed for the purpose of securing the safety of workman or willfully removed or disregarded a safety devise. The rate of compensation in case of death is an amount equal to 50 per cent of the monthly wages of the deceased workman multiplied by the relevant factor or an amount of Rs. I whichever is more. Where permanent total disablement results from the injury, the compensation will be an amount equal to 60 per cent of the monthly wages of the injured workman multiplied by the relevant factor or an amount of Rs. 1,40,000, whichever is more. Hence, the maximum compensation can go up to 50% of Total Monthly Wages now, irrespective of limits. Funeral expenses limit extended to Rs.5000 (from Rs.2,500). The employee shall be reimbursed the actual (full) medical expenditure incurred by him for treatment of injuries caused during the course of employment. Time limit for disposal of cases relating to compensation has been introduced — The Commissioner shall dispose of the matter relating to compensation within 3 months of reference (The Employees Compensation Act, 1923).

9. The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947

The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 provides for the settlement machinery above. The framework of this legislation, which is the principle legislation dealing with core labour Issues, is of colonial origin. This law originated firstly in the Trade Disputes Act, 1929 introduced by the British, when there was a spate of strikes and huge loss of person-days, and secondly, through Rule 81 A of the Defence of India Rules 1942, when the British joined the war efforts and wanted to maintain wartime supplies to the allied forces. Interestingly the interim government on the eve of formal independence retained this framework by enacting the ID Act, which still remains on the statute book (Goswami, 1999, pp.457-544).

Even though the ID Act was primarily meant for industry in the organised sector, its present application has now extended well into the unorganised sector, through judge-made law, Its pro-worker protection clauses and safeguards against arbitrary job losses have evolved over a period of time both through the process of sustained legislative amendments and through the process of judicial activism spread over more than five decades.
  1. Regulation of job losses: Under the present law any industrial establishment employing more than 100 workers must make an application to the Government seeking permission before resorting to lay-off, retrenchment, or closure; employers resorting to any of the said forms of creating job losses is acting illegally, and the workers are entitled to receive wages for the period of illegality. This has been identified as offering high rigidity in the area of labour redundancy, and has been targeted for change under globalisation and liberalisation.
  2. Protection of service conditions: A feature of the ID Act is the stipulation that existing service conditions cannot be unilaterally altered without giving a notice of 21 days to the workers and the union. Similarly, if an industrial dispute is pending before an authority under the ID Act, then the previous service conditions in respect of that dispute cannot be altered to the disadvantage of the workers without prior permission of the authority concerned. This has been identified as a form of rigidity that hampers competition in the era of the World Trade Organisation.
  3. Removal from service: A permanent worker can be removed from service only for proven misconduct or for habitual absence — due to ill health, alcoholism and the like, or on attaining retirement age. In other words, the doctrine of 'hire and fire' is not approved within the existing legal framework. In cases of misconduct, the worker is entitled to the protection of Standing Orders to be framed by a certifying officer of the labour department after hearing management and labour, through the trade union. Employers must follow principles of 'natural justice' , which again is an area that is governed by judge-made law. An order of dismissal can be challenged in the labour court and if it is found to be flawed, the court has the power to order reinstatement with continuity of service, back wages, and consequential benefits.
The Industrial Disputes (Amendment Act), 2010 have brought few significant changes to the Industrial Disputes Act. By inserting sub-section (2) to the section 2-A, a provision has been made for the workman/employee to make an application directly to the Labour Court or Tribunal for adjudication of the disputes relating to or arising out of discharge, dismissal, retrenchment or termination, after the expiry of the forty-five days from the date he has made the application to the conciliation officer of the appropriate Government for conciliation of the dispute. On receipt of the application, the Labour Court or Tribunal shall have powers and jurisdiction to adjudicate upon the dispute. All the provisions of the Act shall apply in relation to such adjudication. Anew sub-section (3) has been inserted to section 2-A, which clearly provides that the applications referred to above shall be made to the Labour Court or Tribunal before expiry of three years from the date of discharge, dismissal, retrenchment or termination as the case may be. The Amendment Act further provides that every industrial establishment employing twenty or more workmen shall have one or more grievance reddressal committees for the resolution of disputes arising out of individual grievances. It has also brought a clear and fast mechanism for execution of the award, order or settlement made before Labour Court or Tribunal or National Tribunal.

10. The Trade Union Act, 1926

The Trade Union Act, 1926 defines a trade union "as a combination, whether temporary or permanent, formed primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workmen and employers or between workmen and workmen, or between employers and employers, or for imposing restrictive condition on the conduct of any trade or business, and includes any federation of two or more trade unions". Then this definition, primarily, talks about three relationships. They are the relationships between the: workmen and workmen, workmen and employers, and employers and employers .

Thus, a trade union can be seen as a group that represents the interests of its members, and may even engage in political activity where legislation affects their members. Trade unions are voluntary associations formed for the pursuit of protecting the common interests of its members and also promote welfare. They protect the economic, political and social interests of their members. It is an association either of employers or employees or of independent workers.

The Trade Union Act facilitates unionisation both in the organised and the unorganised sectors. It is through this law that the freedom of association that is a fundamental right under the Constitution of India is realised.

Objectives of Trade Unions: Trade unions are formed to protect and promote the interests of their members. Their primary function is to protect the interests of workers against discrimination and unfair labor practices. Trade unions are formed to achieve the following objectives. i) Trade unions represent individual workers when they have a problem at work. Negotiation is where union representatives, discuss, the issues which affect people working in an organization; ii) Voice in decisions affecting workers which include determination of wage, selection of employees for lay offs, retrenchment, promotion and transfer; iii) They also play an important educational role, organizing courses for their members on a wide range of matters; and iv) Seeking a healthy and safe working environment is also prominent objective of union activity.

During the last few years, trade unions have increased the range of services they offer to their members. These include.' education and training, legal assistance, financial discounts, and welfare benefits thereby promoting greater bargaining power, minimize discrimination, providing sense of security, inducing the sense of participation and belongingness, as platform for self-expression, leading to the betterment of relationships.

Protection of Labour in Unorganised Sector

In recent times, provision of social security to unorganised sector workers assumed unprecedented significance in the development discourse in India. So far, there are no specific and comprehensive schemes or legislation at the national level, which exclusively address the issues of unorganised sector. Nevertheless, the workers in the unorganised sector benefit from several of the labour laws and social protection measures, which are more or less generic in nature. The Trade Union Act 1926, The Minimum Wages Act 1948, The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970, The Workmen's Compensation Act 1923, and The Payment of Wages Act 1936 are examples of this type. In certain cases, even the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 would be included. For instance, the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 directs both the Central and State Governments to periodically notify the minimum wage rates for various categories of informal labour. Wage determination in India has been achieved by various instruments. For the unorganised sector, the most useful instrument is the Minimum Wages Act, 1948. This law governs the methods to fix minimum wages in scheduled industries (which may vary from State to State) by using either a committee method or a notification method. A tripartite Advisory Committee with an independent Chairman advises the Government on the minimum wage. In practice, unfortunately, the minimum wage is so low that in many industries there is erosion of real wage despite revision of the minimum wage occasionally.

The other important legislations, which have some bearing on the welfare of unorganised sector workers include: Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1 976, Payment of Wages Act, 1936, Employees State Insurance Act, 1948, Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 , Personal Injuries (Compensation Insurance) Act, 1963, Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972, Workmen's Compensation Act, 1923, Plantation Labour Act, 1948, Employees Provident Fund and Misc. Provisions Act, 1976, Inter-state Migrant Workmen (RECS) Act, 1979 and Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. However, all these Acts are either benefiting the select organised segments of the unorganised workforce or mostly with certain limited enabling provisions. Despite the implementation of all these acts, the workers in the sector are mostly inadequately protected in terms of security of employment: better working conditions (prescribed times of work and reasonable wages); and effective systems/machines for identification of eligible beneficiaries, dispute resolution and so on.

During the past five decades, starting with the Community Development Programmes (CDP) in 1950s, the Government and other social institutions have launched vanous social security programmes to meet the basic subsistence and contingency needs of the unorgamsed and informal sector workers. Broadly, it is possible to group these measures into three categories, such as:
  1. Social Assistance Programmes;
  2. Social Insurance Schemes; and
  3. Welfare Funds.
A brief review of these programmes/Schemes is attempted below to provide some insights that help in strengthening the social protection to the unorganized workers.

1. Social Assistance Programmes

The social assistance programmes constitutes a varieties of measures such as food-based transferpmgrammes, income-transfer programmes and cash-transfer programmes.

(i) Food-based transfer programmes: The food-based social safety nets are designed to ensure livelihoods and adequate consumption, relieve deprivation and improve nutritional status of the poor and vulnerable sections of the population. Broadly, three types of interventions could be identified in this category such as:
  1. self-targeted employment programmes for able bodied (Sampoorna Gram Swarozgar Yojana; Food for Work Programmes; and Employment Assurance Schemes);
  2. welfare programmes for specific vulnerable groups (elderly and disabled, pregnant and lactating mothers, etc.); and 
  3. programmes for basic education and nutrition. 
The Public Distribution System (PDS) is the key component in the overall food security arrangements in the country. Over the years, the PDS has played an important role in moderating open market prices and ensuring food security at the household level by providing food grains and other essential goods at lower prices. The main objective of the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) is to improve the PDS consumption of the 'identified poor' by offering a specific quantum of cereals at highly subsidised prices. Despite 'the functioning of T PDS the other food transfer schemes introduced subsequently include: The Annapurna Scheme launched by the central government in which 10 kgs of rice or wheat will have to be given to the destitute elderly who is not at all supported by any means either formally or informally; and Antyodaya Anna Yojana / Antyodaya Anna Scheme of the central government which targets to cover 10 million poorest of the poor households from amongst 65 million below poverty line (BPL) families by making available 25 kg of wheat and rice at highly subsidised rates. These are widely reviewed that the overall improvement in nutritional status of the population due to these schemes are rather low, which highlights the need for further strengthening the existing food transfer measures. In 1995, a major scheme on providing mid-day meals was launched through which some amount of cooked food was ensured per day to the children of indigent families. This measure not only acted as a means of nutritional support to the families of unorganised sector labour but also provided an incentive for school enrolment of their children.

One of the commendable alternative initiatives towards provision of food security is the Community Grain Bank Scheme, which was launched in late 1990s in 13 select States. As per the provisions, the Government provides a one time grant towards purchase of locally preferred variety of food grains at the rate of I quintal per member family for initial stock of the bank, setting up of traditional type of storage facilities and purchase of weights and scales. Within the first five years, nearly 2000-grain banks were set up at a cost of over Rs. 100 million. The scheme is truly participative in nature. At the village level, a 7-member working committee manages the scheme, with the village headman as its chairman and all tribal population of the village living below poverty line as its members. The member families are entitled to take loans in 4 instalments of up to 25 kg each during the period of scarcity, which is repayable at the time of next successful harvest to recoup the stock. The interest on loan is 5 per cent up to 3 months and 10 per cent from 3 to 6 months. In the event of non-payment beyond 6 months, the membership of the individual is liable to lapse but may be revived after repayment. The reports suggest that food bank schemes have been quite successful at local levels in improving food security in remote and difficult areas for vulnerable groups (Remesh Babu, et al, 2006). This scheme, however, did not cover all the workers in the informal economy, as it was specifically designed towards safeguarding against fall in nutritional standards of scheduled tribes living in remote and backward areas.

(ii) Income transfer programmes: Income transfer programmes in India basically include the labour-based public works and infrastructure programmes (or workfare programmes) to promote rural and urban livelihoods. The first such scheme was started in early 1960s in the form of Rural Works Programme largely due to recognition of the fact that growth alone could not take care of poverty. Subsequent to this, a number of wage employment programmes such as Food for Work Programme (FFW-1977), Jawahar Rozgar Yojana (JR Y), Sampoorna Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGRY), Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojana (JGSY), Employment Assurance Scheme (EAS), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (JGSY), Food for Work Programme for Calamity Hit States (FFW-2002) and so on were initiated from time to time. The latest addition to this set of schemes is the recently introduced Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (i.e. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005) which assures that the State Government shall provide to every poor rural-household, whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work, not less than one hundred days of such work in a financial year in accordance with the scheme made under this Act. The minimum wage to be paid to the workers is stipulated and if it fails to ‘provide the minimum guaranteed level of employment, the appropriate government is liable to pay an unemployment allowance.

A major proportion of the beneficiaries of the scheme are agricultural labour, though the scheme is not specially designed to cater to farm workers. Also, it is widely established that the scheme was successful in terms of reducing poverty and unemployment, besides acting as an effective insurance mechanism.

(iii) Cash Transfer Programmes: Among the cash transfer programmes in the social security front, which are equally applicable to the agricultural workers, National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) is very prominent. NSAP, which is a social security programme for the welfare of poor households, has three components such as National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS), National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS) and National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS) (Prabhu, 2001)

2. Social Insurance Schemes

Social Insurance Schemes are another major category of social protection in India for the labour in unorganised sector (and, thus, for agricultural labour). These are meant to improve ability of the poor individuals and households to resist sudden shocks or losses caused by social and other contingencies. The two major generic schemes under this are the Janshree Bima Yojana (JBY), 2000 and the Universal Health Insurance Schemes (UHIS), 2004. While the former envisages life insurance protections to persons between 18-60 years old and living below or marginally above poverty line in rural areas, the latter assures hospital care to poor persons and families. Other centrally sponsored schemes that benefit agricultural labourers are: Personal Accident Insurance Scheme for poor families and Group Insurance Scheme for landless agricultural labourers.

3. Welfare Funds

The various welfare funds, which are currently catering to different informal sector occupations in India, provide different types of welfare amenities to the workers such as healthcare, housing, educational assistance for children, drinking water and so on. At the central government level, there are no specific welfare funds functioning so far, which provide certain levels of social security to all the workers in the informal sector. However, at present the central government runs five occupation-based welfare funds set up under various Acts of Parliament. These funds are for: i) Beedi Workers, ii) Limestone and Dolomite Mine Workers, iii) Iron Ore, Chrome Ore and Manganese Ore Mine Workers, iv) Mica Mine Workers, and v) Cine Workers. A unique aspect of welfare funds is its effective involvement of multiple stakeholders in designing and implementing social safety nets (The welfare funds in Kerala are being run with active support from trade unions and through contributions from workers, employers and the government (Kannan, 2002).

Despite their impressive share in the workforce of the country, the unorganised labour in many occupations generally lacks comprehensive and effective legislations as well as welfare schemes that assure a certain minimum level of social security to them.

There are some specific enactments which have been introduced to bring in a positive growth and reforms in the field for providing protection to the labour forces. In 1996, two umbrella legislations were passed by the Parliament towards regulating the conditions of work and provision of a measure of social security to the group of construction workers. On the basis of these two legislations The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996, and The Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996 — the Government notified the Building and Other Construction Workers (ECS) Central Rules, 1998, which stipulated several social security benefits to the construction workers including accident relief, old age pension, housing loans, payment of insurance premium, payment towards educational expenses of children, medical and maternity benefits and so on. Subsequently, various States were expected to enact state level legislations.

The Second National Commission on Labour (NCL), constituted by the Government in 1999 dealt with the social security concerns of unorganised sector in a detailed manner, In response to the Commissicn's recommendations, Unorganised Sector Workers Social Security Scheme (2004) was launched. As a part of designing this system the Ministry also experimented the introduction of identity cards and identity numbers (Social Security Cards and Social Security Numbers) to the unorganised sector workers, which was again in line with the recommendations of the NCL. Further, Unorganised Sector Workers Bill, 2004 was also prepared which contained measures relating to both social security and conditions of work in the informal sector. In 2004, a National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) was set up to review, inter alia, the social security system available for labour in the informal sector and make recommendations for expanding their converge. Based on its report The Unorganised Workers' Social Security (Draft) Bill, 2006, was drafted, which was formulated after detailed review and examination of all the hitherto similar exercises in the country .

The National Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), 2005 is a step towards legal enforcement of the right to work, as aspect of the fundamental right to live with dignity. The Act ensures at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a year to at least one adult member of very household. The work is to be provided within 15 days of demanding it and to be located within five kilometers distance. The salient features of the NREGA include the self-selection characteristics and the unemployment compensation to be paid by the government, in case the required minimum employment could not be provided. It assures that the State Government concerning the rural area shall provide to every poor household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work not less than one hundred days of such work in a financial year in accordance with the scheme made under this Act. The minimum wage to be paid to the workers are stipulated and if fail to provide the minimum guaranteed level of employment, the appropriate government is liable to pay an unemployment allowance.

The Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 (Under the RTI Act, 2005 people can: demand from the government information pertaining to any of its departments; demand photocopies of government contracts, payments, estimates, measurements of engineering works etc.; demand to inspect any public development work that may be still under construction or completed; demand to inspect government documents — construction drawings, records, registers, etc.; demand status of the requests or complaints and so on), is expected to improve the effectiveness of the social security programmes, as it is expected that it could do a lot towards the proper implementation of employment guarantee scheme (NREGA) and other social security programmes for the unorganised sector.